It was made on a whim at the very beginning of August.
While browsing in a bookstore in Gothenburg, Sweden, I ended up with three books in my hand; two were by women and one was by a man. But then I made the decision; this month, I’m only buying and reading books by women.
And I stuck with it, like a diet. I say “diet” because I did have to consciously stick to the regimen of reading only women. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there seems to be a default switch in my head that goes to white male authors, and I think/fear that it may also be this way for others (How else do you explain the permanent space Patterson/King/Grisham/Child/Brown seem to have at the top of bestseller lists?).
Here are three favorites from my only-books-by-women month:
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
I picked it as my favorite for August, and not without reason. It is a disturbing read, with graphic descriptions of a mad killer’s murder victims. Beukes does a good job of blending modern technology into the book, in the way that teenagers talk to each other today (or so I imagine). There is more than a little bit of Stephen King in Beukes’ writing and I’m willing to bet her next book will be blurbed “The Heir to Stephen King’s Throne.”
Carried AwayA Selection of Stories by Alice Munro
Alice Munro winning the Nobel prize in literature finally reminded me to read some of her stories. And like so many others that read a Munro story, my main thought was “Why haven’t I read Munro before?”
Her stories, the ones I’ve read so far at least, are about women going through a period of change in their lives. The writing is excellent and it is easy to see where all the praise comes from (even for me, a guy who mostly reads fantasy and horror).
Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck
Jagannath is a collection of stories by soon-to-be-quite-well-known Swedish author Karin Tidbeck. The stories are all are dark and Scandinavian. Tidbeck’s own worries that her English wasn’t good enough are unfounded; there is nothing to suggest that these stories are not written by a native English speaker. I’ll let a bit of Elizabeth Hand’s introduction sell you the book:
“I can’t think of when I last read a collection that blew me away the way that Jagannath has, or one that’s left me somewhat at a loss to describe just how strange and beautiful and haunting these tales are.”
So…. what did I learn from a month dedicated to reading only books and stories by women?
1. More of us should dedicate a month to reading books by women.
By “us,” I mean those of us whose default book setting is “white guys.” Far more books are published by men than by women, perhaps because publishers feel that books by men are a safer bet. We can affect this by making a choice when it comes to the books we buy, since how we chose to spend our money is the most effective weapon we have. I certainly aim to be more conscious from now on.*
2. There is no difference in the quality of books between the genders.
Seriously. This is not the reason women sell less than men. This is not a revelation by any means but I still feel it worth mentioning. The grittiness of Beukes’ book, the sheer quality of Munro’s prose and the otherworldly feel to Tidbeck’s stories are a good example. The success of women at the Hugos this year (best novel, best novelette, best editor, best fan writer…) further drives this point home.
* After sliding right back into white-guys-only mode for three books, I now have an all-women line-up for the next five.
** This post was originally published on Bookriot.